Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-recipe challenge Day 22 (the final day!): Beef Pho and Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshake

This is it, the LAST day of my 31-recipe challenge! It officially took me 22 days to cook 31 30 recipes. And I’m exhausted. Later this week I’ll put together a recap post that looks over everything I made last month and what I took away from it, much like I did at the halfway point.

And, to go out with a bang (well, a shake), I FINALLY nailed a dessert!

It seems as long as a stove isn’t involved, I can make a dessert. (Ironic, really, since I can cook but can’t really bake…Cookies! I can make cookies.)

But I want to go out on a high note, so I’m going to save the shake for last and start with my last-night-of-the-challenge dinner: Beef Pho from Zen Can Cook. The broth was easy enough to make, if not pricey–star anise, cinnamon sticks and fennel seeds don’t come cheap, and I couldn’t even find a black cardamom pod–but they impart a really exotic, interesting flavor. It did make my place smell preeetty weird the first night, though.

beef pho

The only slightly “off” thing about this dish was the beef itself–I used a top round to make the broth, and despite the fact that it literally sat in liquid all night, it was pretty dry when I took it out and sliced it up. It came back to life a bit once the slices were re-added to the heated broth, but it wasn’t the tender, juicy meat I was expecting. It was actually the low point of the dish.

Otherwise, though, the pho was quite tasty–lots of fresh herbs, peppers and rice noodles in the warm, beefy broth. Much like the soba, this was a total comfort food. I wish I had this around when I was sick.

I had to make a couple of slight substitutions based on what was available. I couldn’t find any Thai basil, so I subbed in regular basil even though there’s a flavor difference. It was better than nothing. I also used a regular green long hot (seeds scraped out) in place of a Thai bird chili, which my local grocery store also didn’t sell.

Nonetheless, the flavor was still bright and vibrant, and I highly recommend this. It seems so much more complicated than it really is. Once the broth’s made, it’s really just cooking the noodles and slicing up some veggies, herbs and beef. Done and done. My only recommendation? I used only one cut of meat in my broth, because it was available and exactly the amount I needed. I would recommend mixing it up, and next time, I’d use oxtail. I almost went with it this time but opted not to. I think it would add even more depth and meatiness to the broth.

But now, for what we’ve all been waiting for…dessert!

Let’s just put this out there: Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshakes. You can screw this up nine ways to Sunday, and it would still taste fantastic. Because you can’t go wrong with chocolate chip cookies, Bailey’s and coffee ice cream.

milkshake

And, it’s a cinch! Add ice cream, Bailey’s, cookies and ice to a blender, blend, drink. If you actually do screw that up nine ways to Sunday, I might worry.

But in all seriousness, this tastes as fantastic (and fantastically bad for you!) as it sounds. (It was hard to even get a decent picture…Kevin was way too excited and impatient to drink this to wait for a photo.)

Now, I could’ve gone ahead and really pulled out all the stops and baked my own cookies to put in the milkshake (and that had been my original plan), but time became an issue, so I bought a few chewy, yummy cookies from the Wegman’s bakery department. And, frankly, they were probably more delicious than whatever I would have baked. So win-win.

And there you have it. Thirty recipes in 22 days, all capped off with the ultimate of nightcaps. It was a whirlwind month, and now, because I’m me, I’m jumping into another whirlwind month, but this time because of rehearsals. (What can I say? I thrive when I’m busy.)

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll regain the strength to lift a pot or light a stove. Until then, I’m reveling in the beauty that is takeout (sushi!) and leftovers.

31-recipe challenge Day 18: Soup Round-up

As I’ve mentioned before, I had my wisdom teeth out on Friday, and so, in anticipation of that, I spent a lot of last week prepping most of the soups on the recipe list. I could also rename this post, “Why an immersion blender is my best friend.”

First, I made this vegan herbed carrot soup from 10th Kitchen. This soup is fantastic. It’s light, it’s fresh and it’s so, so healthy. It’s helpful to have around when you can’t chew any real fruits or vegetables–it gets me my veggies! I’ve been eating the soup hot, but I’m sure it would be really refreshing cold, as well, like a carrot gazpacho.

Carrot soup

This soup is the first installment of “Why an immersion blender is my best friend.” I actually forgot I even had an immersion blender until I moved, and in the process of packing up the kitchen came across a really old one that I assumed was broken. But we plugged the thing in and, I’ll be damned, it worked! That was a great day. Now I’ve checked one thing off my ever-growing list of kitchen gadgets. Plus, it saves me the inevitable burns from pouring hot soup contents into a blender and back again.

I also cooked up a batch of ginger-chicken soup from Bon Appétit. The recipe called for six quarts of water to three pounds of chicken, which all the commenters said was WAY too much. I halved the recipe to begin with, so I was only using about a pound and a half of chicken (once I removed the breast that cooked in the initial stock to use in my chicken pot pie), so I cut the water down to eight cups to result in a richer tasting broth. I also then added in some extra chicken stock I had left in the fridge at the end.

Chicken soup

With the extra concentration of the chicken flavor, the ginger was kind of lost; I probably should have added more ginger to counterbalance the extra stock. Nonetheless, in the end it made a good chicken soup, even if it tasted standard and not ginger-y. But I made a pretty decent broth (round one.)

Round two of cooking chicken stock from scratch was the base for alanabread’s creamy leek and garlic soup. This soup. Oh, what can I say about this soup? This soup is so good that I was licking the spoon as it cooked. Like cake batter. It was, however, very, VERY thick when I only used half the chicken stock I made. (The recipe was supposed to yield double the stock needed for the soup.) I ended up adding all the stock to get the right soup-like consistency. After only half the stock, it was more like a thin mashed potato puree than a soup. (A delicious potato puree, though. I’m totally considering remaking this one, but doctored into mashed potatoes rather than soup. That would be one killer side dish.)

Leek and garlic soup

What makes this soup so OMG is the two bulbs of roasted garlic. Roasted garlic is sweet and aromatic, not spicy and pungent like in its raw form. And it smells amazing. I now highly recommend adding it to everything. Especially anything potato-based.

There’s just the tiniest amount of dairy in this soup, too; most of the creaminess comes from potato, with just 100 ml of light cream added at the end. And it’s heavenly. I think I found my new favorite soup. Also, see installment two of “Why an immersion blender is my best friend.”

With options like this, my post-surgery soft diet is way less boring than run-of-the-mill canned soups and applesauce (and much healthier.) It’s making the whole recovery process much smoother. (No pun intended!)

31-recipe challenge Day 13: Soba Noodles

Well, folks, this is pretty much the halfway point! And what better way to commemorate than soba noodles?

Why soba? Well, because who doesn’t love a steaming hot bowl of noodles?

Soba noodles

These soba noodles from Pickled Plum were probably my most “exotic” recipe yet. I mean that in the sense of the ingredients. I spent more time in the international aisle for this recipe than for any other, and, in the end, some adjustments had to be made. I couldn’t find certain things on the list, like fish cakes (okay, not that I really looked that hard…) and ichimi pepper. But luckily, I found out ichimi is basically just a hot Japanese chili pepper, so I used a little chili powder instead.  I almost couldn’t find the dried fish flake (katsuo bushi) for the sauce, but I found an unfortunately large package of it at the last minute.

I ended up halving the amount of fish flake in the sauce because I was afraid it would impart too much of a fishy flavor, because when I opened that package, whoa baby was it fishy! But I think the full two tablespoons actually would’ve been fine. The flavor seems way milder than the smell.

To be completely honest, I don’t think what I bought were truly soba noodles. I bought rice flour and buckwheat vermicelli (soba are buckwheat), but I don’t think that’s actually the same thing. Close enough though, right? These were great gluten-free noodles, though. I gave the rest to my mom to try because I liked them better than most gluten-free pasta substitutes I’ve tried (like brown rice pasta), and they were cheap. I have a bunch of sauce and toppings left, so I’ll probably go buy actual soba noodles and make it again.

Soba bowls

This dish was an unbridled success. It took only as long as it took to heat up the sauce and boil the noodles, so basically no longer than any other pasta. Plus, it’s warm and cozy and totally customizable–add pretty much whatever you want with as much or as little sauce as you want. You could totally add chicken, pork, shrimp or fish to this and make it a more filling meal. We went with grated ginger, grated daikon (a large, white, Asian radish), chopped scallions and cilantro. I also spent way too much time in the international aisle at Wegmans hunting down nori, found some, and then forgot to add it to the soba. Oops. It’s there for next time. (Confession: I ate this along with pizza. Not traditional and very weird, but it was there and I love pizza. Sue me.)

Truth be told, I’m leaving the wasabi out next time. I thought I just put the smallest bit in, but holy cow! I couldn’t finish my bowl–I gave it to Kevin. It was SO spicy. (To me, anyway, but we all know I’m a spice wimp.) Anyway, next time I’m just saying “no” to wasabi.

Wasabi or no wasabi, soba is a great cold winter day meal or home sick meal, because it’s so cozy and warming and a fun alternative to the usual pasta or soup. And it’s quick! (And if you have a cold or sinus infection, just mix a little extra wasabi in there and BAM! Sinuses cleared.)

So go cozy up with a bowl of soba…what are you waiting for??

Soba noodles 2

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